Canteens making money whilst selling healthy food kids love! Yes it can be done. The Root Cause is proud to showcase Healthy Canteens that are doing this.
Welcome to this edition of Showcasing Healthy Canteens. What an amazing response to our first Showcase. If you missed seeing the showcase of Kylie Bendetti’s Canteen from Casuarina Street Primary School in Katherine, NT, be sure to check it out here. Kylie has been flooded by words of encouragement for her awesomeness. Thanks for showing her that her efforts are appreciated right around the country.
Now talk about awesomeness, today I am beyond excited to share with you an amazing lady that I have been following for a couple of years. I am always inspired by the volume of incredible real food she creates every day, in a kitchen that doesn’t even have an oven! I introduce you to the supremely passionate Kathy from Kathy’s Kitchen Canteen from Blairmount Public School in NSW. Please take the time to learn how Kathy has gone about offering the children real food every single day, and leave a comment for her on the post to let her know how much her work is appreciated. Thanks.
I start this post by sharing this quote from Kathy that stood out from my interview with her.
Be patient. Put some love into it. Serve from the heart. This is for the benefit of the kids. Their bodies deserve to be fuelled with good energy from good foods.
Kathy’s approach to the canteen is somewhat different to many canteens. Many canteens have a set menu, then a weekly specials menu. Kathy has a set menu and every single day she creates a few different daily specials based on what she has available and what takes her fancy. These specials change daily and are the foods which sell the most. Kathy does this because it creates the excitement for the kids. She says “I love hearing the kids coming around the corner saying I wonder what surprise Mrs Low has for us today!”
A Video By Canteen Owner, Kathy
Hear Kathy talking from the heart about the canteen, the kids, about kids won’t eat that and more.
Q: How long has your canteen been offering healthy food choices for the children?
I have been offering healthy options for 5 years.
Q: What was the catalyst for your changing to a healthy menu?
Before taking over the canteen, I was the schools Community Liaison Officer, and I ran the breakfast club. For me, the catalyst was seeing the junk food that was being served and kids in the playground eating food which was far from nutritious. This is a low socio-economic area and I wanted to encourage the kids to eat better because they deserve it.
Q: How did you go about transitioning to the healthier menu?
When I took over, I had no idea how to run a canteen, I hadn’t even worked in one. So I just jumped straight in and started making changes. I knew this needed to be done for these children. I changed from white bread to wholemeal bread and removed processed chicken nuggets straight away. There was lots of parent complaints but I stood firm.
Kathy said “I just made the switch. No if’s or but’s, and I didn’t worry about complaints. I said this is what I offer. If you’re not happy and you want nuggets, pack your child a sandwich for lunch and take them to McDonalds after school.”
This kind of approach was probably easier because Kathy is running her own business and she had won a tender, so essentially she didn’t have to answer to the P&C or school. Kathy had also been working at the school for 12 years so she had a lot of trust built up within the school too.
Q: Can you share with us your current menu
Kathy said “do you know Bel, my set menu still has pies and sausage rolls on it, but it doesn’t worry me. I don’t sell a lot of them. I know the kids so I make sure they are not having this everyday. I tell them no, choose something else.” Kathy wants the kids to buy real food, so that is what she has on display and what’s visible in the canteen.
Every day, Kathy cooks fresh chicken and turns it into healthy snack boxes, sandwiches, rolls etc. She then uses the stock from the chicken to make another one or two hearty meals packed with vegetables. Kathy see’s her front counter like the equivalent of a candy bar except it’s a real food candy bar loaded with foods to fuel kids bodies and brains. This candy bar is buffet style and the kids can choose what they’d like depending on how much money they have. Kathy has trained the kids – they are not to touch the food, Mrs Low and her helper will serve them – and they must return their reusable plates, bowls and cups.
Kathy loves when the kids say “Mrs Low, what can I buy for $1” and she’s able to say anything from the front row of the counter. Kathy wants even the kids who may only have 50 cents to be able to walk away with a healthy snack.
Here’s also a little video of Kathy sharing one of her daily specials and how the kids can order it. I love in this video that you can see how Kathy is training the kids to expand their tastes.
You can download Kathy’s set menu here.
Q: What are your top 3 most popular items?
“It’s not actually my set menu that’s popular – it’s the special’s I make.” Her 2 most common lunch bag orders are:
- $4 healthy snack box of <child’s name> choice
- $4 credit to healthy food
From the real food candy bar, these are most popular:
- Salad cups
- Fruit salad
- Dip pots – veggie sticks with lavosh crackers and a dip
Q: How do you students and parents view the school canteen. Do they see it as a treat for the children or is it more an every day thing?
The canteen is an everyday experience for many kids. For many families, this is the cheapest way they can feed their children real food every day. Many parents ask for snack boxes to be ready to be collected after school, and Kathy stays open at home time because she’d prefer a family to grab a fresh food deal from her than to do a “Maccas Run.”
Q: What has been the students response?
The kids just love it. They keep me going. Kathy said “the kids don’t even ask what’s in it anymore. I’ll just have it, I’ll eat it anyway.” Kathy loves that she has expanded the children’s palate for what they’ll eat, and she loves the trust they have in her. It’s their excitement at seeing the canteen counter every day that keeps her creating a new counter look everyday.
Q: What was the parents response?
Kathy said simply “we are family.” The parents send her personal messages. They love that Kathy is looking out for their kids, and that she tells them no they can’t have something. Kathy makes a habit of taking photos of kids eating real foods and sends personal messages with the photos to parents. The parents love that Kathy has been able to get the kids to eat foods they won’t at home.
Q: How have teachers responded to the change?
Fabulous! They love the change in behaviour of the kids and that the packaging is sustainable. Teachers order lunch a lot too.
Q: What does the School Principal have to say?
The School Principal follows Kathy’s Kitchen Canteen Facebook page (you should too) and loves it when at conferences other Principals say “oh, you’ve got that awesome canteen.”
Q: How many orders do you receive a day? Is this more or less than the old menu?
The school has 520 students and I’m open every day.
- Mon – Thurs: on average about 40 orders by lunch bag (pre-orders), plus another 20 that rock straight up to the counter
- Friday: the above numbers can more than double.
Parents will often pop into the canteen after school to see what’s left that could be taken home too.
Q: How is the canteen run? Eg. P&C, volunteers, tender etc
Kathy runs the canteen as her own business. Her tender is due in shortly (as if any school would let this woman go!).
Q: How many people do you have working in the canteen?
Kathy runs the canteen full time with herself and one other volunteer who passionately loves Kathy and what she’s doing for the kids at the school. How beautiful is that!
Q: Do your orders come in manually or are you using software to help manage orders? If so, what software are you using?
Kathy does not use an online ordering system. This is mainly due to the fact that her specials change everyday and she feels having to stop and record everything into a computer would take away from her time to prepare the fresh meals she makes everyday. Kathy understands this method of working is not for everyone, but it’s what works for her business.
Q: What government policy does your canteen work to?
Unlike some canteens, Kathy does not see the changes in these guidelines as a problem because she has been running the canteen as mainly real food for the past 5 years.
Q: How do you reduce the impact on the environment for things like plastic cups, ice blocks, salad containers etc? Where do you source them from?
It has taken some time but Kathy has used the parenting community to build up her supplies of reusable plates, containers and cups. It’s not uncommon for Kathy to put the call out like the one below, and to get swamped by replies. Parents know this helps Kathy make the food fun the kids. The kids understand the importance of bringing back their plates etc due to environmental reasons. The only thing that stops Kathy from being 100% sustainable is her facilities. She doesn’t have a dishwasher and her kitchen sink is very small which makes washing up for a lot of kids a time consuming job.
Q: Does serving healthier options cost you more in money?
This was an emphatic “absolutely not” from Kathy, stressing how fortunate in Australia we are to have such an abundance of “outstanding fresh produce.”
Q: Does serving healthier options take longer for you to prepare?
Kathy doesn’t know any better because for the last 5 years since she has started, she has always made fresh food. It takes Kathy and her volunteer 1 hour every morning to create todays specials and chop up everything, and put it in the presentation cups etc. Kathy chops most things 3 different ways so they can be used for 3 different uses – eg. cucumber sticks for veggie pots, cucumber chunks for salad and then on diagonals for sandwiches.
Q: Is your canteen making more or less money than when using the old menu?
Kathy can’t comment on the profitability of the old menu. She won the tender and immediately changed to creating real food specials. Kathy says “it’s not just about the money but the service to the families.” Kathy is happy with the profit she is making. She used this as illustration of how profitable real food can be. Buy a whole watermelon for $6, cut it up into wedges and sell it for 50 cents a piece. It only takes the sale of 12 slices to break even. The rest is profit!
Q: Do you have any tips to help other canteens transition to healthier menus?
- Get the kids involved. Kathy had the year 6 school captains go around and ask the kids questions about what they like and didn’t like;
- Do little taste tests;
- Put chips etc out of sight;
- Make your canteen counter colourful;
- Display only real food.
Q: Do you have a favourite healthy recipe which the kids love that you can share with other canteens wishing to offer healthier options? If so, can you please share the ingredients, method and a picture too?
My chicken and sweet corn soup is a huge hit. To get a copy of the recipe, fill in your name and email address here and it will be emailed straight to you:
Dip pots with lavosh are super easy and everyone loves them too. Don’t really need a recipe, you can just make it up so it looks nice.
I found this on Kathy’s Kitchen Canteen Facebook Page – it epitomises everything about Kathy – someone who cares an awful lot.